Alan Wake Review

Title: Alan Wake

Developer: Remedy Entertainment

Publisher: Remedy Entertainment

Released For: Windows, Xbox 360

DRM and DRM Free Versions Available      

Released On: Feb 16, 2012

MSRP: $29.99

Purchased Copy

 

When I first heard of Alan Wake, it was early in 2009 when I was first introduced to the game; a full year before the game’s actual release.  It was during a spot at E3 when a small gameplay trailer showed our fabled hero running around attacking monsters and being attacked by possessed machinery. This was the first Alan Wake iteration I had seen, though let’s not confuse that being the only time Alan Wake had been shown off, and how it was confused with what it really wanted to be.

Alan Wake has been teased as early as 2005. Being developed by Finnish studio Remedy Entertainment (the creators of the critically acclaimed Max Payne Franchise). It’s first iteration (as seen below) is  Alan Wake in what appears to be much more a resident evil 4 clone (thanks to all the hype resident evil 4 had received upon it’s own release) than what we now know. Between a slow moving character a much darker atmosphere, and slower paced combat it seemed it was going to merely try and entangle itself with the success of another game. Alan Wake even as a character looks far different than what we have now, with an entirely different back story to follow. The only true similarities between it’s original demo and it’s final release comes from the names they used such as Bright Falls, Alan Wake, etc, along with the original monster he encounters being the beginning character you face in the final version of the game; which was the man you run over in the beginning of the game along with trying to reach the lighthouse.

Now reaching 2006’s Alan Wake demo, the story whilst still not entirely the same as what we received now seems more solidified, and the idea that you need both the light and the gun (as teased towards the end) becomes one of the trademarks to Alan wake’s combat sections. When we finally see Alan Wake’s 2007 demo, it’s clearly much more defined. The character is fully fleshed out, the story (while bits and pieces are different and the plot line is mixed around) seems to be fully in place, and the idea of the flashlight and the cabin is finally shown. The E3 2009 demo that I was first introduced to the game with, the game was almost fully fleshed out; complete with the idea that the darkness could possess inanimate objects, Alan’s voice becomes fully realised, and his story and gameplay (for the most part) was fully finished. It was released to the masses in early 2010 for the Xbox 360 and PC in early 2012.

Alan Wake also had 2 spin-off dlc entitled ‘The Signal’ and ‘The Writer’. You may not find them however on your pc copy because it’s automatically given to you when you purchased the game, unlike with the Xbox 360 version where you were forced to pay for them. There’s also the spin-off game “Alan Wake – American Nightmare’ as well as a collector’s edition version of Alan Wake which will all be covered later at some point.

I first played Alan Wake in 2012 on the Xbox 360 before I had a capable computer that could play the game. First playthrough took me 10 hours to complete the game. This didn’t include attempting to get all the collectables including the thermoses and the manuscript pages. The game starts out as the player Alan Wake attempting to get away from his apartment after a two year writer’s block along with his wife Alice. Their place of stay is a town known as Bright Falls; a beautiful small town surrounding Cauldron Lake. After some strange happenings, Alan and Alice Arrive at a cottage on a small island in the middle of the lake. After a fight, Alan goes outside to get some fresh air only to to hear Alice’s scream due to her fear of the dark. Alan runs back just in time to see his wife fall into the water. After Alan dives into the lake after his wife, he wakes up next to his crashed van, with his wife nowhere to be seen, and one full week has passed that he can’t remember.

After playing the game I encouraged all my friends to play it. I was floored by the music (the artists all of which I was quite familiar with), I was amazed by the story, I found the atmosphere to be incredible, the combat was fun if a bit clunky, and I enjoyed the overall experience. It’s not a forgettable game that’s for certain! But, after three years of it going unplayed; does it still really hold up?

Well yes; for the most part.

The game’s first major issue is that it suffers from a terrible sickness officially dubbed ‘The Alan Wake Syndrome.’ What is this sickness exactly?

For nearly three years Alan Wake as a game was teased with large parts of the game being at dawn, day, and dusk.

In the finished product however the game is almost exclusively at night. The game however during the day looks better in many respects. Due to the game’s story however it forces down the player’s throat of almost entirely being at night; unnecessarily dumbing down the beauty of the game. Which is a real shame because I think the game could have used some more interesting play with different day times.                                                                                                           

As for the controls; they work. A bit clunky at times but I found they worked fine. Certain segments where you are allowed to drive a car for instance are a bit strange in how they handled the controls and the car feels like you’re driving the Flying Spaghetti Monster combined with bricks. Not horrible, just not incredible.

Going back and playing it again after more gaming experience has also made me see some other things about the game I didn’t notice before.

Combat. It’s, well I’ll be honest it’s not as good nor as difficult as I remember it being.

Ok maybe that’s a bit harsh, but when I first played it I remember the combat being tough and me having to restart multiple segments of the game (and this was on the normal difficulty). After playing through it again, I didn’t find it ‘difficult’ so much as frustrating. How the majority of the combat works is that you have two weapons at your disposal. A flashlight and your gun(s) (you can have multiple guns at once with a total of five possible gun choices). How you defeat each enemy is you ‘focus’ the flashlight on the enemy until most of the darkness is gone. From there you fire your gun until the enemy vanishes. Sounds simple right?

While here is where my main gripe with the game comes in.

The ammo for your gun (the thing you need to defeat an enemy) must be found throughout each level. The problem resides when you run out. You see when you run out of ammo, that’s it. You either have to run until you reach a generator checkpoint (and your sprint doesn’t last very long), and doing so without being hit more than a few times. When enemies can spawn anywhere (keep in mind when a new batch of enemies spawn the camera does pan to them which helps, but is also annoying), it boggles me how such a mechanic would have made it in the game. I had to restart four or five times not because I had died, but because I ran out of ammo and I couldn’t fight. The enemy also can have projectiles, which can be dodged, but are impossible to dodge while sprinting. When I did have ammo, the combat was ‘ok’ minus a few minor glitches I might come across. However, when it didn’t work, it became an effort of frustration to play. I think with some more polish it could have been much better but when it worked, it was fine. While I didn’t run out of ammo that often, it happened enough to make me annoyed.

I should also mention as the player you are encouraged to use your environment as well, including activating lights, gates, and other items to help you defeat your enemies by luring them into the light or other traps.

As for the music, it’s music. It’s still as good as I remember it. Besides the music being from some of my favorite bands like Poets Of The Fall, the ambient music is also quite well done and helps build the world in a great way and makes you feel apart of it. It’s worth getting the soundtrack for certainly.

There are also certain things you can find and collect. Some that are worthless like the thermoses that you can find, but some such as the hidden ammo caches are extremely helpful if you’re low on ammo or batteries. One of the main things to collect are ‘Manuscript Pages’. These are a major part of the story and while I won’t spoil how they are involved, I’ll leave it at they can give you hints and clues to upcoming things that are going to happen in the story. It’s a nice deterent from an otherwise largely liniar game.

Before putting attention to the story, I have to talk about the radio show that goes on during the game and the tv series ‘Night Springs’ that you can find playing in certain tvs across your travels. The radio show while not seeming very important, can give you hints of story elements to come up. Hosted by a local to Bright Falls, it is but another tool that helps really build an amazing atmosphere to the game.

‘Night Springs’ is a tv spot that comes about during Alan Wake’s travels on certain television sets. Think of this as a shortened version of ‘Twilight Zone’ and ‘Tales From The Crypt’ mixed together with simple but funny plots that last between three and eight minutes in length. Not only do these help build the atmosphere of the game even more, but it adequately is worth watching. To give you a sample for one of the narratives; in one episode ‘Quantum Suicide’ a man talks about a machine that will give him immortality by creating alternate realities where he lives. However, during the show one of the guests trips over the cable to the machine without him realizing it because his ego (he’s busy ranting) and he kills himself. It’s actually really funny the way it plays out. It’s campy as hell but amusing and a nice thing to watch.

The story is fantastic. The story should be the reason you buy this game. It made me forget the faults I had with the game all over again. I don’t want to spoil much so let me explain this: The story is about self-sacrifice, and realizing that you can’t have everything you want. Early in the game you meet your best friend and manager Barry Wheeler after he hasn’t heard from you in over a week. After seeing the darkness (known in the story as ‘Taken’) for himself, he believes your story and it becomes Alan and Barry’s job to rescue your wife. From there, you will encounter someone who claims to be your wife’s kidnapper, a psychologist who insists on ‘helping you’, the caretaker to the town’s lights, a female sheriff who helps maintain order, a rogue FBI agent who insists on catching you, and ‘The Dark Presence’ which is the entity behind it all. When asked what type of story Alan Wake is, I say

“It’s not the story that makes a novel great. The story that’s here has been done a thousand times, will be done a thousand more and by a thousand other games. It’s the way Alan Wake told it’s story that truly set itself apart from others.”
Overall Alan Wake is more of an experience than a game. It’s slightly odd control scheme combined with an ‘okay’ if not lackluster and sometimes frustrating combat may be a turnoff for some, but for the flaws that it does have it makes up for it by building an incredible atmosphere using unique music and characters, and a story that is still to this day memorable and worth noting as the game’s main draw for players. It’s still probably on my top twenty-five games of all times and for good reason. It’s still one of the best stories I’ve had the pleasure of interacting with in some time. If they do ever make a sequel and refine the combat I’ll be impressed.

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